Hugging and cuddling your newborn is practically second nature to parents. And we know the act offers many health benefits to your child as he or she grows up. But if you ever need more reason to snuggle up to your baby, then you should know this: hugging your baby boosts his brain power.
A recent survey from the Nationwide Children’s Hospitalin Ohio, USA, examined 125 babies (both full-term and premature) and studied the level of their reactions to physical touch. Premature babies responded less to affection than full-term babies, but their “brain response to touch was stronger when babies in the NICU spent more time in gentle contact with their parents or health care provider,” reportedScience Daily.
Something as simple as skin-to-skin or rocking your baby in your arms can already impact the way their brain develops, according to lead researcher Dr. Nathalie Maitre.
The results are not surprising and the reason why our own Department of Health established the Unang Yakap protocol. As soon as a baby is born, he is put on his mother's chest for skin-to-skin contact. It's an act that transfers a mother’s warmth and protective bacteria to her newborn and jumpstarts brain development already. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it “life-saving,” and DOH has mandated hospitals to practice it.
If anything, the study reinforces the belief that cuddles and hugs can significantly influence the wiring of babies’ brains (whether premature or not), and it would help them respond to and benefit from stimuli all throughout their childhood. Affection promotes learning and social-emotional connections.
“The activities that make your baby feel secure and loved also build his intelligence. By responding to his signals, you give meaning to his experiences and let him know that his actions have an impact,” according to Parents.
Studies have shown how a lack of warmth affects a child’s brain. Brain matter can shrink for babies raised in orphanages without a nurturing environment or who have suffered abuse. It can also alter their behavior in the long run. Brain matter can become 10 percent larger for babies who have nurturing mothers.
“The idea is that those kids who develop a secure attachment actually show enhanced brain activity at age 8,” said the study’s lead researcher, Nathan Fox, to LiveScience. “Infants and young children expect an environment in which they are going to interact and receive nurturance not only food, but psychological nurturance, from adult caregivers.”
Parents have so much love to give to their children, so you probably don’t need a reminder to snuggle close to your baby. But with all the things you want to do to stimulate baby’s brain, it’s nice to know that such a simple act like hugging can already provide a lasting impact. So cuddle away!